New Wine into Fresh Wineskins

Last Updated on April 27, 2023 by GMC

13th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Amos 9:11-15; Matthew 9:14-17

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?”

Jesus and the Twelve must have appeared to the mourning disciples of the beheaded John the Baptist as a spiritually undisciplined band. The unduly curious inquirers received only a cryptic response: “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?”

Jesus alluded to the joy and festivity of the week-long, traditional Jewish wedding in which the bridegroom and his closest friends rejoiced and sang together in cheerful abandon. The bridegroom has come, the one whom the prophets spoke about, as in the hopeful passage in Amos: On that day I will raise up the fallen hut of David… The juice of grapes shall drip down the mountains, and all the hills shall run with it. I will bring about the restoration of my people Israel…

Jesus’ first miracle was at the wedding feast of Cana when he turned water into the “juice of grapes,” saving the bridegroom’s party. 

The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. Joy will turn into sorrow soon enough, Jesus said, and then his disciples will be as the Baptists’s—fasting and mourning.

More cryptic illustrations followed:

No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”

A grand vision of a new era and a new Jerusalem came before the Bridegroom’s mind as he hinted at the superseding of the Old Law with the New, of the expansion of Israel to include the Gentiles. Persons with hearts of stone like the tablets of Moses will have hearts of flesh quickened by the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26). The law will be written upon their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). 

Trying to patch the new onto the old was an exercise in futility. The cherished “temple” Jesus was sent to destroy and raise up again in three days was a threat to a centuries-old establishment. Social inertia and resistance to change would build up steam and eventually crucify the alleged king and bridegroom, unintentionally fulfilling his prophecy. 

These pictorial remarks likely left Jesus’ inquisitors more puzzled than enlightened. One sometimes wonders when reading the Gospels whether Jesus wanted to be understood or not in various interactions. Oftentimes no attempt was made to explain words that provoked misunderstanding. Perhaps knowing that his long-term vision was beyond the capacity of his listeners and also beyond the power of words, Jesus simply dropped images and hints here and there to be unpacked after his death and resurrection. We are still unpacking them.

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